Twenty gold medals, 24 silvers and 26 bronzes. That’s what South Africa has to show for its participation in the Olympics since its debut at the games in 1908. It’s still a relatively poor track record despite the fact the country had been banned from participating at the games between 1964 and 1992 because of its apartheid laws.
Among many SA hopefuls hoping to make a great impression at this year’s London Olympics, starting on 27 July, are three youngsters relishing the opportunity to compete on the international stage in arguably the most prestigious athletics event in the history of the sport.
There’s Chad Le Clos, a 19-year-old swimmer who needs very little introduction. Le Clos’ swimming career began at the tender age of eight and his swimming moved from strength to strength since he started competing at the age of 10. Le Clos won his first notable gold medal at the World Championships in Dubai in 2010 for the 200m butterfly event and was voted as the Most Promising Athlete of the Year at the South African Aquatic Awards in 2011 (this was largely due to 35 medals Le Clos amassed throughout the Swimming World Cup Series). Despite being one of the youngest members of the SA men’s swimming team, Le Clos is swimming an astounding four races (200m butterfly, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley as well as the 200m freestyle) but just in case these races are not enough, he is still waiting to hear whether he will be swimming the 100m butterfly. If Le Clos swims the 100m butterfly he will break a South African record for the most events competed in an Olympics.
Jean Greeff is another South African making his debut at the Olympics this year as the only South African weightlifter and the fifth South African weightlifter to have ever entered the Olympics. Greeff is using the 2012 London Olympics as more of a stepping stone in his career and acknowledges that the Olympics in 2016 and 2020 will be where he actively seeks out a gold medal. At the age of 22 there is still a lot of time on Greeff’s clock and there will be ample opportunity for him to further his career and earn his first gold medal at the Olympic Games.
After the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, BMX cyclist Sifiso Nhlapo became a household name. This was after he earned a bronze medal on the Olympic track in Beijing. Nhlapo has represented South Africa at nine World Championships and has set the record of winning six consecutive finals. What makes Nhlapo’s achievements all the more admirable is the fact that in 2009 he was diagnosed with a broken neck after a devastating crash during training sessions. After finally finding a doctor that would allow him to race again, he began his journey on the long road to recovery, and now, a mere three years later, he is going to London to attempt to better his 2008 podium finish. – Calvin Turnbull